Roma may not be the youngest team in the league, but they have an abundance of youth where it counts (and concerns) most: in central defense. Apart from the midfield maestro, an argument could be made that the most mentally taxing position on the pitch is center-back. While these players are typically seen as lumbering beasts, more akin to mountain trolls than wisened scholars, a top-end center-back needs to be able to read and diagnose an attack in the blink of an eye.
These defenders can dissect an attack as it unfolds, accounting for, and in some cases predicting, a myriad of offensive permutations, including passing combinations, off the ball runs, which players are a threat to shoot—and with which foot and from which location—which players are likely to cross, and so on. And they have to do all this while possessing supreme spatial awareness, knowing where they are relative to their fellow defenders, the keeper, the officials, etc. And once they've mastered that, they have to think and react quickly enough to jump-start a counter attack.
Needless to say, it's not an easy position. Doubly so for players as inexperienced as Marash Kumbulla, Roger Ibañez, and, to a lesser extent, Gianluca Mancini. When the heart of your defense is so young, you have to flesh out the rest of your defense with savvy veterans capable of providing guidance and support to your young center-backs.
Roma has done that with players like Chris Smalling, Federico Fazio, and Juan Jesus, but Smalling has been dealing with a string of injuries this season while the other two simply haven't been good enough to be counted on in crunch time.
All of which leads us to the transfer rumor du jour: Nikola Maksimovic. According to Calciomercato.com, Roma is vying with Inter Milan for the impending 29-year-old free agent. Maksimovic, who has played in Italy since 2013, is an imposing and experienced defender who excels in the passing game, having completed 93% of his passes in each of the past three seasons.
Now, this isn't exactly an exciting rumor, but with Jesus’ contract set to expire in June, and Fazio's in 2022, Roma will be in the market for defensive depth behind the Pau Patrol. And as a free-agent, Maksimovic is even more enticing.
Plus, you know, he's familiar with Maurizio Sarri...read between the lines if you will.